Monday, March 19, 2018




Zen monks are sometimes asked if their silent style of living ever becomes lonely. Some admit to loneliness, others say solitude and isolation are a part of temple life, and you take it or leave it.  

        Individuals who enjoy solitude know that the experience can be a positive one, with little or no feelings of sadness or monotony.

        Of course, some novice monks are only biding their time undergoing a limited period of self-restraint until they can get back to a normal life of television, romancing, and drinking.

        There’s the story of a visitor who was being given a tour of a certain Zen temple by the master. On their rounds they found the meditation hall empty and silent, as was the kitchen. Walking in the garden they passed a group of novice monks engaged in a lively conversation.

        The visitor asked the master what deep topic the monks were discussing so earnestly.

        The master said, “They are probably talking about having to be silent.”

In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to avoid spending time alone with our thoughts. We can just whip out our smartphones and dial up someone, or else play electronic games, or else go to a saloon and watch television.

But being alone doesn’t have to be the same thing as being bored or lonely. In fact, when the word “alone” was coined in medieval times, it referred to a sense of completeness in one’s own being,

The philosopher Elbert Hubbard said, “He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.”

Getting comfortable with solitude can be challenging, given that our associations with it these days tend to be negative. Invariably, solitude is considered peculiar behavior, even weird. People associate going it alone with antisocial conduct and risk taking.

But needing time alone doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you’re a recluse.

We need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.

Being alone discourages dualism, and instead encourages calm.

And that leads to being in the present moment.

When we are in the present, we soak in all of our surroundings. There’s no particular goal or endpoint, no good or bad. There is just the thing in itself.

We can be ourselves.

Claude Debussy said, “Silence is the space between the notes.”

Think about that.

Silence is the space between the notes.

His words were like a description of a Japanese brush painting.

What is not there is as important as what is there.

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Historically, Buddhist monks were allowed to own only a few possessions: their robe, a bowl, chopsticks, a needle to repair their robe, a toothbrush, and a razor to shave their head.

Today a monk may possess more, depending on the monastery and on the whims of the master.

Maybe even a smartphone.

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Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.  --Thomas Merton

Monday, March 05, 2018




           Dictionary explanations are sometimes roundabout: For example the definition of the word difficult states. “The state or condition of being difficult.” “A situation that is difficult or dangerous.” “A difficult thing that is hard to accomplish, deal with, or understand.”

          Another term—self-definition—is less circuitous. Self-definition is the evaluation by oneself of one's worth as an individual, in distinction from one's interpersonal or social roles

I would like to consider the subject of difficulties from the standpoint of Buddhism’s four noble truths:

Difficulties can be very real.

Difficulties can affect every human.

Difficulties are often self-caused.

Difficulties can be dealt with.

Everybody is looking for a quick fix or an easy answer. Whether it's to lose weight or to solve problems, people want a magic pill to make their lives free of difficulties. There's a tendency to believe that what we want is outside of who are already are.

As fulfilling as Zen may be to individuals who practice it, Zen or even Buddhism is not a permanently happy condition of mind and body or an earthly paradise.

Even Shangri-La had some shortcomings.

Life can occasionally be demanding. Sometimes it’s tough to keep ourselves from stress and hardships.

One textbook answer is to stay calm, relax, and remain positive. So, what else is new?

Libraries, bookstores, magazines, and the Internet are all loaded with self-help advice to tide one over tough times. To name a few bits of advice:

Be brave and be a better you.  Never give up, but be confident in what you do.  Realize your hidden potential.  Be strong because things will get better.  God helps us handle what we are given.

Such nuggets are like diets that are guaranteed to make you lose weight. They are countless, and there is a new one every day.

Yes, life can sometimes be challenging, and there are no guaranteed cures.

Getting back to the viewpoint in the noble truths of Buddhism, instead of looking at external circumstances and blaming them for unfortunate life events, define yourself.

First, see if you are creating or causing the trouble.

Then, recognize if you are the culprit.

Next. See if there’s anything you can improve.

Finally, do something to change things.

To counterbalance those previously mentioned hackneyed maxims we can paraphrase a few that are more relevant:

n  Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.  — The Buddha

n  Time does not heal everything but realization and understanding can.  — The Buddha

n  We do not exist for the sake of something else. We exist for the sake of ourselves. ― Shunryu Suzuki

n  When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn peace. ― The Dalai Lama